Growing up with a younger brother on the autism spectrum, I was no stranger to sensory overload. He still (even to this day) can’t wear certain fabrics like denim, can’t eat certain foods, and is sensitive to sounds and colors.
I remember how, when he was younger, we’d wrap him in a blanket (much like swaddling) and we’d make a game of it, pretending that he was a hotdog and we’d name all of the things we were gonna put on him. Being wrapped up like that instantly calmed him down.
We learned what a sensory overload meltdown looked like and how to help him feel better.
In my teens, I developed anxiety and I was constantly overwhelmed by so many things. Especially in public places with lots of sounds.
As an adult, my anxiety was worse. There were days when I was so anxious I felt like I was crawling out of skin. Light hurt, sound hurt, being touched or my cats coming near me, made me want to flinch and scream.
I remember putting blackout curtains in my living room for months because I needed it to be dark constantly.
And never did it occur to me that I was experiencing sensory overload.
I was just anxious. It was just overwhelm. I was stressed. When I started looking into self-soothing I realized that so many of the things I was doing in my life were specifically because my anxiety was overloading my senses.
As I started to work on and manage my anxiety things started shifting. I learned how to create boundaries, how to deal with triggers, and unless I’m triggered by a high-stress event, I hardly ever get overloaded.
If your sensory overload is due to anxiety, I highly suggest going to therapy and learning how to overall manage your anxiety which will help stop you from becoming overloaded. In the meantime, if you’re having a high anxiety day, here are some tips to lessen the sensory overload just based on my own experiences. Everyone is different!
Tips for sensory overload!
When I’m in sensory overload mode, I don’t want anyone to touch me, even my cats. It just seems like too much for me to handle and it makes me short-tempered and cranky. I remember one of my sweet little furballs coming to cuddle me and I just yelled at him to go away.
I bought a weighted blanket and it helped a lot. If you don’t have one of those available, just wrapping yourself up in your favorite blanket or blankets can help. There’s something soothing about having a little bit of weight/pressure wrapped around you.
Adjust the temperature. Sometimes a bit of extra heat can help, and sometimes turning on the A/C can help.
You can also get a cold/warm cloth for your forehead.
I tend to go toward heat. I use my electric blanket and I have a microwavable heating pad and those types of soothing heat can lessen my agitation.
Warm drinks are my go-to, especially tea.
You might also be so overwhelmed and overloaded that it’s hard to cook or food is the last thing on your mind, so keeping a stash of good-for-you snacks doesn’t hurt.
I used to be obsessed with how my house smelled. Lavender was my overload-go to so I’d always have it in a diffuser.
I’ve been obsessed with essential oils for a long time. Putting a little bit of lavender on my chest always makes me calmer because that’s what I’ve learned to associate the scent with.
Find a scent that soothes you. It can be something from your childhood, the smell of a person, the smell of your favorite lotion – whatever works for you.
Watch a nature ASMR video (the sound and visuals can be soothing). When I found out that my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer one of the only things that helped was having a scenery video up on my tv.
Pay attention to what colors have a soothing effect on you and then surround yourself with them.
Dim the lights or light a few candles. I like the soothing effect of string lights or a himalayan salt lamp.
Use a sleeping mask to have a reprieve and relax if your eyes are hurting.
Sound is one of the first senses to become overloaded when we’re anxious and upset. Sometimes silence can help, other times, quiet, soothing sounds will help bring you down. And other times, you just need sounds that you actually like!
Nature sounds like rain or thunderstorms are excellent.
Noise canceling headphones can help eliminate outside stimulus. I often wear regular headphones in public just so that I can listen to music or audiobooks.
I also love guided meditations on Insight Timer. Listening to a soothing voice lead you through a meditation helps anxiety and lowers sensory overload.
ASMR videos are also pretty awesome. There are so many kinds of sounds so find what ones work for you.
Binaural beats are specific sound frequencies that can help you relax.